Saturday, August 26, 2006

"Competition", "Imitation", and "Protection"

I've written before about the tendency of other people to imitate the winning formula of an established company over making their own way - learning and growing as they do.

It's human nature - people take the path of least resistance. The trailblazers come through first, doing the heavy lifting, clearing the way - and the imitators follow.

Now, everyone copies everyone else to some extent - I've seen a beautiful bodice on a BCBG dress and said, "Wow, that would look amazing in champagne satin atop a black velvet sheath!" - but generally, most people understand that it's one thing to take an element and give it your own signature - and quite another to completely rip it off and pretend it was your own idea.

Competition is also a fabulous, healthy thing. When you've got other people doing something similar to you, it keeps you on your toes and pushes you to remain one step ahead.

But every once in awhile, someone comes along who simply copies everything that makes a store or website unique - the layout, the brands and items, and even the website text. That's not "competition", and it's not "imitation". It's impersonation. This isn't a company that wants to distinguish itself in the market - it's one who wants to "ride the wave" of an older, established company by using tried and true promotional and marketing strategies, and selling the established website's top-selling merchandise.

In a case like this, the older, established website is put in the not-so-great position of trying to find a way to remain a unique destination for its customers.

Luckily, suppliers are aware of this problem and will work to "protect" the established company from this sort of situation.

"Protection" is a common practice among Brick & Mortar stores. Let's consider the case of a store in Anytown, USA. They sell a bunch of fabulous retro and rockabilly stuff. They've been a loyal buyer of the top retro brands for years, and their store is doing fantastic.

Then, someone else opens a store in the same town, not far away, and starts stocking the same brands. The first store adds a new brand they've discovered, and without fail, the new store starts carrying the brand.

But wait, you say - that's just the free market at work! Maybe so. But a Beauty Fiend Diner Dress is a different than, say, a slice of pizza. That dress is exactly the same no matter who you buy it from. So, now you've got two stores in the same area carrying the same items.

The suppliers understand that this situation actually doesn't benefit them at all - they aren't going to sell more dresses now that there are two stores in Anytown - they're going to sell the same amount, only divided between the two stores, because there are only so many customers for that dress in Anytown, USA.

The web is different from Anytown, in the fact that the web has the whole world as it's target market. But that world is still small - there are only so many customers for a certain type of product. And a website that impersonates another site is acting similarly to that new store in Anytown - by hoping to attract the same customers as the website it's impersonating.

So, in cases like this, suppliers will work with the established company to make sure there is less overlap between the products the two websites sell.

Every once in awhile, we get an email from a customer asking us why we don't sell Stop Staring Clothing. I mean, it would make perfect sense for us to sell their line - it would be a perfect fit for Pin Up Girl.

Well, back in 2002, we met with the Stop Staring people. They were very sweet and awesome - but they also made it clear that another website had exclusives on many of their best sellers. They were protecting their biggest customer - and protecting themselves as well by preventing the oversaturation of their line.

We were disappointed, at first - there were some beautiful dresses that we knew would do really well on our site. But not being able to sell Stop Staring ended up being a net positive for us, because it pushed us to do our own thing and create a line of clothes that fits our website perfectly.

We still love the Stop Staring line - the designs are so classic, timeless, and pure. But you don't need to buy it from us. There are sites all over the web that sell their line. is most concerned with bringing you the latest, most unique selection of fabulous clothing, shoes, and accessories, and we have worked with our suppliers for years to make sure that we stay on the cutting edge, always bringing you the best selection of fantastic items anywhere - online and off!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Obviously, suppliers want stores to stay in business. If the market is watered down to the point that no one can make a living, everyone closes, and suppliers sell nothing.

If the suppliers are choosing one business over others to sell to, it is obviously the one that purchases the most product consistantly.

It's naive for any newer business owner to get their nose out of joint about this type of thing. When they become bigger, they'll expect the same type of protection from the supplier relationships they've spent years cultivating.

There's plenty of product out there...everyone just needs to carve their own niche. And Pin Up Girl has definitely done just that.